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Clay County woman gets rare med-mal plaintiff’s verdict

A Kansas City woman who nearly died from an abdominal wall hematoma while pregnant and lost her unborn son recently won a $2.5 million verdict from a Clay County jury in her case against a North Kansas City Hospital emergency room doctor.

“It is always an uphill battle for plaintiff’s lawyers in venues that are considered conservative,” said Kathy Hagen of Watson & Dameron in Kansas City who represented the plaintiff, Johnna Hughes.

Hagen believes the verdict to be the first plaintiff’s verdict in a medical malpractice in Clay County in at least 20 years.

“We thought we had a very strong case, but knew still that the cards were stacked against us,” she said.

In her suit, Hughes made claims of wrongful death and personal injury. She alleged that ER physician Brandie Niedens failed to timely treat her hematoma when she arrived at the hospital in September 2010, while 35 weeks pregnant, which the hospital denied.

Niedens’ attorney, Gregory Forney of Shaffer Lombardo Shurin in Kansas City, declined to comment, but said his client intends to appeal.

Hughes, then 38, had two genetic blood clotting disorders, but had maintained safe clotting ranges throughout her pregnancy, Hagen said.

She went to the ER after experiencing upper abdominal pain and was treated by Niedens, who took her history, conducted an examination and ordered lab work and an ultrasound of her upper abdomen.

Niedens identified an abdominal wall hematoma and gall stones and told Hughes nothing could be done for the two until after birth and Hughes was given prescriptions for nausea and pain.

She also phoned an on-call OB/GYN to ask if any more could be done, but did not ask him to come in and evaluate her or seek an admission for her from him, or a repeat ultrasound to determine if the hematoma was expanding.

About 33 hours after her discharge from the ER, Hughes was rushed to the hospital after being found “pale, distraught and in severe pain” in her bed, Hagen said.

Her hematoma had grown eight-fold in size and Hughes was in hypovolemic shock, losing about half of her blood volume. After she was stabilized, she delivered her son stillborn.

An autopsy showed he did not receive the blood/oxygen required and suffered either asphyxiation or a hypoxic/ischemic event when Hughes went into shock.

The eight-day trial wrapped up May 12 following nine hours of jury deliberation. Nine of the 12 jurors signed the verdict in Hughes’ favor on both of her claims.

The award broke down to $875,000 on Hughes’ personal injury claim and $1.625 million on her wrongful death claim.

Hagen said the defense’s case was that Niedens met the standard of care, and also that Hughes’ condition would likely have been detected during a non-stress test appointment scheduled the day she was released from the ER. She didn’t keep the appointment because she needed sleep.

“That’s tough when you’re blaming the mother who really wanted this baby,” she said. “That’s a hard sell and obviously, the jury didn’t buy into it.”

She said one of the case’s strengths was the power of Hughes’ testimony, which prompted tears in the jury box at points.

“The plaintiff was a really endearing, loving person,” Hagen said. “She really has been torn apart by this, it has been life-changing for her.”

The case is Hughes v. Niedens, 12CY-CV10890.

$2,500,000 plaintiff’s verdict

Type of Action: Medical malpractice/Wrongful death

Breakdown: $875,000 for the personal injury claim, $1.625 million on the wrongful death claim

Venue: Clay County Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 12CY-CV10890/May 12, 2016

Judge: Elizabeth Davis

Injuries alleged: Chest, abdomen, death

Plaintiff’s Experts: Dr. Ben Gasirowski, St. Louis (emergency room physician), Dr. Bradley Sullivan, Kansas City (obstetrics/gynecology)

Defendant’s Experts: Dr. Edward Mlinek, Lincoln, Nebraska (emergency room physician), Dr. Howard Schwartz, Kansas City (obstetrics/gynecology)

Insurer: ProAssurance Indemnity Company, Inc.

Caption: Johnna Hughes, individually and as natural mother of Chayden McFadden, deceased, v. Brandie Niedens, M.D.

Plaintiff’s Attorney: Kathleen M. Hagen, Watson & Dameron, Kansas City

Defendant’s Attorney: Gregory Forney, Shaffer Lombardo Shurin, Kansas City

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